Hopefully all of you Chicago Blackhawks fans don’t have to work tomorrow, because tonight’s game is a late one
The annual (though soon-to-be-discontinued) Circus Trip always brings its fair share of late starts for the Chicago Blackhawks. We had one in Vancouver last week, we’ll have one this weekend in Los Angeles and we have one tonight in San Jose.
Chicago visits the Shark Tank trying to bounce back from a 5-0 thumping at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers. This Circus Trip has been a pretty tough one, not exactly indicated by the team’s 2-2 record on it. The California swing actually offers the Blackhawks a chance to get healthier.
The rival St. Louis Blues are actually closing in on the Blackhawks in the early race for the top spot in the Central Division and Western Conference. The Blues won their fourth straight game last night and carry 25 points, three back of Chicago’s 28.
San Jose has been the coolest of the three remaining teams on this Circus Trip, going 4-5-1 in its last 10 games. Let’s take a closer look at the Sharks.
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San Jose trying to make another Final
Some might not remember the Sharks actually represented the Western Conference in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. It was certainly a surprise considering the team has been in a major state of flux over the past few seasons, lifting Joe Thornton from the captaincy and struggling to find an identity.
Everyone who has suited up for the Sharks this season (minus goaltenders) has at least one point, so that’s positive. But only four guys have 10 or more points, which isn’t great. (For reference, the Blackhawks have eight guys with such stats.)
Joe Pavelski is the top dog with 17 points, while Justin Braun continues to be a shot machine from the blue line and has contributed 16 points. Patrick Marleau has five goals, but is underperforming with six total points. Guys like Joel Ward (four points) and Mikkel Boedker (four points) are also struggling.
Goaltending has been critical to the Sharks staying afloat early, as it was in the previous postseason. Martin Jones is out to prove last season wasn’t a fluke, and he’s done well so far. His .915/2.17 stats will bring a team to some wins, with or without offensive firepower.
What do the Blackhawks need to do to win?
It’d be really easy to say “Don’t play like they did in Edmonton,” but you have to remember the Blackhawks outshot the Oilers in that loss. They weren’t just lounging around the ice. They just ran into a goalie (Cam Talbot) who had a good night.
That’s just an offensive analysis, though. Obviously, allowing five goals isn’t going to get you a whole lot of wins. Corey Crawford has had a few slip-ups of late after carrying the team through portions of the first several weeks. There’s nothing to say these are any more than aberration, so Crow just needs to keep being sent out there to do what he does.
On the defensive front, however, something has to be done. As Blackhawk Up’s Gail Kauchak noted earlier today, Brent Seabrook and Michal Kempny have formed a pretty effective pairing (though Edmonton’s speed burned everyone Monday). As for the other two pairings …
The Duncan Keith–Brian Campbell pairing just hasn’t worked, as it’s constantly facing own-zone situations. And Niklas Hjalmarsson is being hampered by a struggling Gustav Forsling, who seems to be giving way to Michal Rozsival (not much of an improvement).
So maybe shake up the defensive pairings? Keith and Hjammer up top, and Campbell and Forsling on the bottom? I’m not sure if Campbell-Rozsival would work, so if Rozi has to start, maybe go Keith-Rozi and Campbell-Hjammer. Regardless of how the pairings set up, the Blackhawks defense needs to communicate better, play tighter to the puck and challenge the blue line more.
TV listings and prediction
Game time: 9 p.m.
TV listings: NBC Sports Network, WGN
Radio listings: WGN Radio 720-AM
Radio live streaming: WGN Radio App
Prediction: Let’s say the Blackhawks pull out a 3-1 win tonight. I think Crow is going to step up big after a couple tough outings and push the Blackhawks’ confidence. I think Nick Schmaltz will tally a goal, and I think Jonathan Toews will get back his lost overtime goal from Vancouver. Marian Hossa will get an empty netter to top the night.